According to top bioethicists, medicine should always be at the service of life – Do No Harm. Even when medical treatment cannot eliminate a serious disease, the goal then is to alleviate suffering.
Every possible act and caring attention should be brought into play to lessen the suffering in the last part of a person’s earthly existence, and to encourage an end of life as peaceful as possible.
In order to help the patient in every situation, everyone involved in end of life decisions must be aware of the innate dignity of every human being, even during terminal illness.
Every patient is entitled to basic health care, no matter what the “quality of life” has become. Basic health care includes nutrition, hydration, cleanliness, warmth, etc. To withhold such care would violate the inherent dignity of the human person. Moreover, it would introduce into society a discriminatory and eugenic principle.
Food and fluids are a natural and ordinary means of preserving life, even when administered artificially, and are morally required even for patients in a persistent vegetative state (PVS), so long as the food and fluids provide nourishment and alleviate suffering.
Feeding, even when through technology, is not a medical procedure intended to cure a disease, but a pro-medical form of basic human care.
While patients who need pain killers should be able to receive the relief the medications can bring, the dosage should be proportionate to the intensity of their pain and its treatment.
The refusal of aggressive treatment is neither a rejection of the patient nor of his or her life. The decision to begin or to continue a treatment actually has nothing to do with the value of the patient's life, but rather with whether such medical intervention is beneficial for the patient.
The decision – either not to start or to halt a treatment – is ethically correct if the treatment is ineffective or obviously disproportionate to the aims of sustaining life or recovering health. Thus, the decision to forego aggressive treatment in this situation would actually exemplify respect due to the patient at every moment of his/her life. This sense of loving respect will help support the patient to the very end.
Withdrawal of the natural means of food and liquids leads to death by starvation and dehydration. If knowingly and willingly done, this constitutes euthanasia by omission.
All forms of euthanasia that would result from the administration of massive doses of a sedative for the purpose of causing death must be avoided.
"Euthanasia is one of those tragedies caused by an ethic that claims to dictate who should live and who should die. Even if it is motivated by sentiments of a misconstrued compassion or of a misunderstood preservation of dignity, euthanasia actually eliminates the person instead of relieving the individual of suffering."
[19th Int’l Conference of the Council for Health Pastoral Care, 12Nov04; TCS, St. Paul MN, 20May04; HLA Action News, Summer 04]